At least 18 injured as car bomb explodes in southern Beirut
Fears Hezbollah faces attacks in response to its increased intervention in Syria
Men try to extinguish fire from burning cars at the site of the explosion. Photograph: Reuters
A bomb exploded in a car park in the southern suburbs of Beirut yesterday, injuring at least 18 people, according to Lebanon’s National News agency, and raising fears of increasing spillover from the war in neighbouring Syria.
The explosion struck the district of Bir al-Abed, and was believed to be a car bomb, Lebanese media reported. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The bombing came amid long-standing fears that Hezbollah, the powerful Shia Muslim militant group and political party, would face attacks in response to its increased military intervention in support of Syrian president Bashar Assad against the uprising challenging his rule.
A particular worry has been that car bombs would strike the sprawling southern suburbs of Beirut, where Hezbollah has its offices and many supporters. Some Syrian rebel commanders have threatened to attack Hezbollah there.
Ali Fayyad, a Hezbollah member of parliament, warned against jumping to conclusions and noted that no particular figure appeared to have been targeted. The explosion was in a supermarket parking lot, he said. The area is densely populated and a bomb placed on a busy street could have caused more casualties, raising the possibility that it was a calibrated attack.
Another Hezbollah legislator, Ali Ammar, blamed “Israel and its agents”. Hezbollah has portrayed the Syrian uprising as a tool of Israel and the West and part of an effort to weaken Hezbollah, which depends on Assad’s government to provide a conduit for arms from Iran that allow it to confront Israel.
Tammam Salam, Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, called for political leaders to meet about the incident. Hezbollah fighters played a key role in helping the Syrian government retake control of the strategic town of Qusair near the Lebanese border after more than a year of rebel control.
Some Syrian rebels say Hezbollah forces have been aiding the Syrian military in a renewed attack on rebel strongholds in the nearby city of Homs.
Lebanon is deeply divided between supporters and opponents of Assad, and the pressures of the conflict in the neighbouring country have strained Lebanon’s fragile political balance. Lebanese Sunni militants have long crossed the border to fight with the rebels and tensions increased after Hezbollah sent thousands of fighters to Qusair. Its fighters have also battled rebels in the Damascus suburbs.
Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has urged Lebanese militants to keep the fighting inside Syria and not to battle in Lebanon. But Hezbollah was accused last month of sending fighters to assist the Lebanese army in clashes in the southern city of Sidon that drove out a radical Sunni cleric who had been a vocal critic of Hezbollah, using anti-Shia sectarian slogans to denounce its intervention in Syria. – (New York Times)